Ecology, Capital, and the Nature of Our Times: Accumulation & Crisis in the Capitalist World-Ecology
AbstractIn this essay, I elaborate the possibilities for a unified theory of historical capitalism - one thatviews the accumulation of capital and the production of nature (humans included!) asdialectically constituted. In this view, the modern world-system is a capitalist world-ecology, aworld-historical matrix of human- and extra-human nature premised on endless commodification.The essay is organized in three movements. I begin by arguing for a reading of modernity's"interdependent master processes" (Tilly) as irreducibly socio-ecological. Capitalism does notdevelop upon global nature so much as it emerges through the messy and contingent relations ofhumans with the rest of nature. Second, the paper engages Giovanni Arrighi's handling of time,space, and accumulation in The Long Twentieth Century. I highlight Arrighi 's arguments for a"structurally variant" capitalism, and the theory of organizational revolutions, as fruitful ways toconstruct a theory of capitalism as world-ecology. I conclude with a theory of accumulation andits crises as world-ecological process, building out from Marx's "general law" ofunderproduction. Historically, capitalism has been shaped by a dialectic of underproduction (toofew inputs) and overproduction (too many commodities). Today, capitalism is poised for a re-emergence of underproduction crises, characterized by the insufficient flow of cheap food, fuel,labor, and energy to the productive circuit of capital. Far from the straightforward expression of"overshoot" and "peak everything," the likely resurgence of underproduction crises is anexpression of capitalism's longue duree tendency to undermine its conditions of reproduction.The world-ecological limit of capital, in other words, is capital itself
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